Home Local News New Pa. fireworks law ignites sales, adds safety concerns

New Pa. fireworks law ignites sales, adds safety concerns

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UPLAND >> Business is booming at Phantom Fireworks and for other local fireworks vendors, thanks to the passage of a new Pennsylvania law last fall. House Bill 542 was signed into law on Oct. 30, 2017, officially repealing and entirely replacing the Fireworks Act of 1939.

“There are three grades of fireworks commonly referred to as ‘pop,’ “bang,” and ‘boom,’” said state Department of Agriculture spokesman Will Nichols, following the passage of the new fireworks law. “House Bill 542 will allow Pennsylvanians to now purchase those in the ‘bang’ category, with more explosives than smaller novelty items.”

Now, heading into the greatest fireworks season of them all, the Fourth of July holiday, Pennsylvania residents are able to purchase and use the consumer-grade, or Class C, aerial fireworks which they previously had to go out of state to buy.

“Phantom has the biggest fireworks retail showrooms in the entire nation and has 80 showroom locations, with eight in Pennsylvania,” explained Brian Bush, the Upland store manager who has been working for Phantom for ten years and only recently transferred to the Delaware County store at 877 Upland Ave. from Phantom’s Shrewsbury, Pa., location. “Our showrooms have a grocery supermarket kind of feel to them, a much nicer environment to shop at than the barn-like huts that often sell fireworks along highways. We sell a massive assortment of fireworks that range in price from 99 cents to $1,500, and everything in between.”


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Bush said that he saw almost an immediate spike in sales after passage of the new law and the store is bracing for the increased traffic this month and next, with hours being extended more with each passing week heading toward the fourth. Traditionally, on July 2, 3 and 4, Phantom gets upwards of 2,000 customers a day in the store, Bush calculated. Both state and out-of-state customers must show ID upon entering the store to shop, as well as sign off that they’ll abide by the local fireworks laws where they reside. The store expects to increase its staff from 20 to about 40 in the coming weeks. Most of those employees will be hired as temps, Bush said.

“We are fielding calls every day, asking about our large inventory and extended hours. Our sales will pick up every day, more and more, as we head toward Independence Day,” Bush stated. He said most customers seem to know about the new law.

Although the law was passed statewide, every municipality within the state may differ in its own local laws of what is and is not allowed and how strict or lenient their own ordinances are.

Pennsylvania lawmakers finally allowed residents over age 18 to legally purchase and use the heavier explosives in order to fill recent budget gaps. In addition to the state’s 6 percent sales tax, consumers can get set to pay an additional 12 percent fireworks tax, which will go into a fund for firefighters and other first responders. According to the Associated Press, analysts in the state House projected that the new law would generate more than $9 million a year,

“Our customers will often groan when they first hear their purchase gets another 18 percent tacked on in tax, but after finding out that 12 percent of the money goes to our state’s first responders, they usually feel better about it, plus they don’t mind paying it for having the convenience of shopping closer to home,” Bush remarked.

On a recent weekday, John Finn of Bensalem strolled the aisles of Phantom, with only a few low-key novelty firecrackers in his cart. He said that he was totally unaware about the law change.

“This is my first time here,” he said, as he gestured to the box of little explosive army tanks sitting in his cart. “I’m just buying a few of these kid’s toys here. I took the ride with my friend who lives in New Jersey. He’s shopping for the more serious ones.”

Pennsylvania residents could previously only purchase items such as sparkers, fountains and novelties. Now Pennsylvanians are able to purchase assorted firecrackers, bottle rockets, Roman candles, and other explosives with a maximum of 50 mg of explosive material. Bush said the most popular items at the store are the mortars and the 500 gram aerial repeaters, which come in various colors, shapes and designs.

Display fireworks which are classified as including salutes that contain more than two grains or 130 milligrams of explosive materials, and professional-grade aerial shells containing more than 60 grams of pyrotechnic compositions, are still only to be used by professionals with a permit from the municipality where the display will take place. Anyone selling fireworks of any size must be licensed through the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Temporary licenses are issued for temporary vendors, who set up shop in tents or other parking lot-type structures. These temporary vendors are only permitted to sell fireworks between the dates of June 15-July 8, and Dec. 21-Jan. 2 each year.

“This is my first time in the store since I stumbled across the new law while looking something else up online,” said Latasha Smith of Woodlyn as she perused the aisles of Phantom Fireworks this week, looking over a list that she compiled from her online browsing. “I am having a cookout and thought it would be fun to add some fireworks and then I got a good coupon for here in the mail so I decided to come in and shop.”

Smith said that it will be her boyfriend, not she, who will entertain her guests with the fireworks display. She added firework kits with names like “July 4 Jubilation” and “Philadelphia Freedom” to her cart.

Jamie Joseph, assistant manager at Phantom Fireworks, said that, although fireworks sales were decent for New Year’s, the major spike in sales since the new law passed came in February.

“Our sales for this February were 600 percent higher than the previous February, thanks to the Eagles win and everyone’s desire to get green fireworks,” Joseph explained.

Both Joseph and Bush said the store’s biggest spikes in sales traditionally come between Memorial Day and Fourth of July, but sales are strong all summer long. New Year’s Eve and Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, are also big occasions for fireworks, as well as gender reveal parties, which happen all year long.

“We have special fireworks kits for gender reveals,” explained Bush. “We have pink, blue and ones that are secret and come in generic wrapping to disguise the pink or blue until the exact moment of reveal.”

A few miles down the road in Boothwyn, the TNT Fireworks store is also giving local residents a bigger bang for their buck, allowing them to shop for all their fireworks needs, closer to home. TNT is not privately owned, like Phantom, and all inquiries were referred to its corporate offices, which never returned calls. TNT sent mailers out to residents in Delaware County, touting sales and other promotions right in time for July Fourth.

Bush said that Phantom, too, has many promotions going on, including buy one, get one and a buyer’s program that gets the consumer free and low cost merchandise.

Although fireworks vendors and customers appear happy at the changes in Pennsylvania’s fireworks law, not everyone is thrilled.

“In my opinion, the legalization of fireworks in Pennsylvania is right up there with rescinding the requirement to wear motorcycle helmets,” Springfield Police Chief Joseph Daly said. “To me the term ‘fireworks’ is nothing more than a euphemism for explosives. Placing dynamite in the hands of the inexperienced is a recipe for disaster. I seem to recall that the annual death rate in the U.S. from fireworks is seven and injuries treated at reporting medical facilities is about 10,000 annually. This injury figure only represents those treated at hospitals. As a result, I suspect the number of unreported injuries is considerably higher. The overwhelming majority of those injured annually are children under the age of 15.” 
When asked about fireworks safety, Bush, a former firefighter himself, quickly pointed out the many ways that Phantom cares about customers’ safety. There is a large safety table in the front of the store with a multitude of safety information, printed in both Spanish and English.

“We are a big chain of stores, so our reputation really matters,” Bush said. “We have very strict quality and safety standards. In fact, since most fireworks come from China, Phantom has its own employees over there who oversee product development and quality control. Most fireworks that we sell here are our own exclusive Phantom brand. Our fireworks are tested by the Consumer Safety Product Commission, as well as the American Fireworks Standard Laboratory, which has even higher standards.”

Along the aisles of the store, there are complimentary safety brochures, with pictorial instructions on safe and proper usage, that customers are encouraged to take with them. Plus, Bush said, there are always experienced and knowledgeable sales staff on the floor who explain to customers how to safely and properly use the fireworks, and answer any questions.

“Our biggest concern is the safety of our residents, especially if you live next door or close to somebody shooting them off,” Ridley Township Board of Commissioners President Bob Willert said this week. “We (Ridley Township) have an ordinance pending trying to set some parameters on where you can shoot off safely. Thank God we have the best fire companies around, but I pray we won’t have to use them.”

The new law does have restrictions, although most boil down to using common sense when handling fireworks. Users cannot ignite or discharge fireworks on a public or private property without express permission of the property owner or be discharged within 150 feet of an occupied structure. Fireworks cannot be discharged from or within or toward a motor vehicle or building. It is also against the state law for fireworks to be discharged while the person is under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or another drug.

“We do not have a specific fireworks ordinance in the borough,” said Ridley Park Police Chief Robert Frazier. “Misuse would come under our borough ordinance for disorderly conduct and creating a hazardous condition or the Pennsylvania Crimes Code for reckless endangerment/or risking a catastrophe.”

Frazier said that his main concerns are people who are inexperienced in handling fireworks, alcohol related accidents, where individuals are under the influence of alcohol or another substance and are careless in the way that they hold, or set off the explosives and when fireworks are set off too close to a home where there is no safe area in case of a firework goes in the wrong direction. He also is concerned about careless use of fireworks around children.

“People often want to show off for friends and take risks with fireworks,” Frazier added. “I once had a friend years ago who put a firework in a hole in his shoe and it exploded, putting him in the hospital for few days to get a skin graft. My warning is to always be in an area where you can compensate for direction or unexpected occurrences with fireworks. Do not have too many people around one’s close proximity and when setting off fireworks, always have a buffer zone. Do not get fancy, or show off to entertain friends or the crowd, and be sure to have a water source close by the fireworks display. My best advice to anyone using fireworks is to use common sense.”

Frazier reminded Delaware County residents that Ridley Park Borough’s professional fireworks celebration, open to the public, will take place at dusk on Saturday, July 7 at Ridley Park Lake.

Daly echoed Frazier’s comments.

“Aerial fireworks displays are currently provided by certified, licensed, insured professional experts and there is a good reason for those requirements. One must keep in mind that professional aerial displays are launched from mortar tubes filled with sufficient gunpowder to propel the explosive hundreds of feet in the air before it explodes. These displays are generally held in open fields during ideal weather conditions with fire suppression equipment readily available and, in most cases, fire apparatus standing by,” Daly explained. “Now, with this new law, we will have unlicensed, uninsured, inexperienced amateurs, having consumed varying amounts of alcohol or worse, launching high explosive into the air in heavily populated residential areas. The only saving grace is that some local municipalities like Springfield have not rescinded their prohibition on the possession and use of fireworks, or the requirement for specialized permits for aerial displays. Unfortunately, especially around the upcoming Independence Day celebration, there will be individuals competing for the annual prestigious Darwin Award.”

Bush over at Phantom sees the upcoming summer holiday from a different viewpoint.

“We’re excited to be here in Delaware County to help people light up their backyard celebrations,” Bush stated. “We look forward to boosting jobs in this area and supplying the products people want, without making them go inconveniently out-of-state to get them.”



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